2011 was a year of heartbreaking tragedies for journalists caught up in the tide of massive world events. Certain cases of journalists killed and attacked in the crossfire of the stories they were reporting stand out. In 2011, there were many instances in which the media became part of the story they were covering. Sometimes they themselves became the story.
The tide of Arab Spring that swept across many countries in the Middle East during 2011 was hailed as a humanistic victory for the region and the world. But it came at an incredibly high cost, and with very murky results. It might be too early to see what the results of the popular uprisings in the countries impacted by Arab Spring will be, but it is not too soon to see at what cost the changes came, among them that the media is more a target than ever before.
Photographers Chris Hondros’s and Tim Hetherington’s shocking deaths in Misrata, Libya were significant losses. Both men were at the height of their unique careers. Their work was highly valuable to the international public discourse on the stories they covered. The horrific sexual assault of correspondent Lara Logan in Cairo, Egypt shocked the world. The days-long captivity of dozens of journalists in the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli was another indication of how much international correspondents are needed, but how vulnerable they can be. In Syria, cameraman Ferzat Jarban was seen being taken into custody by officials while on the job. He was soon after found dead on the side of the road with his eyes gouged out. In September, when the Israeli embassy in Cairo was stormed by angry mobs, there were numerous Tweets from journalists on the ground reporting that they had seen other reporters getting attacked by the mob.
Ironically, many of the same stories of tragedy also provide inspiration. Lara Logan, in an interview with 60 Minutes, broke the unwritten code of silence for female journalists who were sexually assaulted while on the job. One of Chris Hondros’s last photos ever taken–on the afternoon he was killed–was named by TIME magazine as a top 10 photo of 2011. The reporters who were trapped in the Rixos Hotel conducted themselves, by all accounts, with tremendous professionalism and restraint. Matthew Chance, CNN International Foreign Correspondent, even managed to send out detailed, informative Tweets from inside the Rixos during the ordeal. Local reporters in Syria continue to work despite the cloud of murder they operate under after the thinly veiled, violent threat sent to them via the brutal murder of their colleague.
All of this shows not only that the world can still surprise us with its sudden change, as in the downfall of the decades-old regime of Gaddhafi in Libya. Or the Egyptian citizens who continue to insist on self-governance, despite a very rocky beginning. The work of journalists during 2011 was commendable, remarkable, highly valuable, and tragic. It will always be remembered simultaneously as a year of great change and loss.